Attacks on the Press 2001: Nicaragua

During his last year in office, President Arnoldo Alemán continued to show intolerance and hostility toward the press. His administration supported a law requiring compulsory registration for journalists and doled out state advertising to punish or reward media outlets, depending on their coverage.

Most journalists agree that compared with the previous government, led by Violeta Chamorro, which repealed restrictive measures and allowed the media to flourish, press freedom has suffered under the Alemán administration.

Alemán’s government has been plagued by corruption scandals, many of them uncovered by the press. The president himself has been accused of generously adding to his wealth while in office, and he has refused to make his tax returns public. Alemán has rejected corruption charges, calling them part of a media campaign designed to tarnish his achievements.

Nicaraguan journalists and media owners have challenged Law 372, which mandates that all journalists must register with the press organization Colegio de Periodistas de Nicaragua. After the National Assembly approved the bill in December 2000, President Alemán sent it back to the assembly for revisions, which included restrictive provisions such as penal sanctions for journalists not accredited with the Colegio. The assembly adopted the modified bill in March 2001.

In early June, Nicaraguan journalists and media owners challenged the legislation in the Supreme Court of Justice, which had yet to issue a decision at press time. In 1985, the Costa Rica­based Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that laws requiring the mandatory licensing of journalists violate the American Convention on Human Rights.

Despite having promised in 2000 that political considerations would no longer influence state advertising policy, the Alemán administration continued to face accusations that it manipulated the flow of state advertising to reward or punish the media. In late June, El Nuevo Diario, a leading daily close to the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), announced that the government had sharply curtailed the paper’s share of state advertising, in addition to canceling the subscriptions of government ministries and agencies. The main beneficiary appeared to be the pro-government La Noticia, which, despite its low circulation, received a disproportionate share of state advertising.

The Managua daily La Prensa, meanwhile, is still awaiting a Supreme Court decision regarding government attempts to collect taxes based on a 1999 audit it conducted after the paper published a report on official corruption.

In presidential elections held on November 4, Constitutionalist Liberal Party candidate Enrique Bolaños beat the FSLN-led National Convergence candidate and former president Daniel Ortega. But during the campaign, according to prominent journalist Adolfo Pastrán Arancibia, unsubstantiated press allegations of corruption against both candidates seemed designed to advance political agendas rather than to present the news.

A bill that would allow increased access to public information remained stuck in the National Assembly at year’s end, but President-elect Bolaños has promised to press for its passage. Local journalists say the law is sorely needed because of the government’s instinctively secretive approach to information management.

August 25

Adolfo Pastrán Arancibia, Radio La Primerísima

Pastrán, a prominent journalist who hosted the radio show “Púlsar Noticias” and was press director of the Managua-based radio station Radio La Primerísima, was forced to cancel his show after the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the country’s main opposition party, allegedly pressured the radio station’s management.

According to Pastrán, the radio station had harshly criticized the FSLN and its leader, Daniel Ortega. In late July, Ortega met with the station’s management and resolved his differences with them.

Shortly thereafter, Pastrán was given a 20-day “vacation” while his show was shortened from one hour to 45 minutes and moved to a new time slot. The original slot was filled with a new show hosted by FSLN parliamentary deputy Víctor Hugo Tinoco.

While on vacation, Pastrán performed consulting work for the civic organization Movimiento Viva Managua, whose leader, Pedro Solórzano, was a longtime friend. Solórzano’s organization planned to mount a media campaign encouraging people to vote in the November 4, 2001, general elections.

When Pastrán returned from his vacation, he met with the station’s general manager, William Grigsby, and told him about his consulting work, explaining that he had provided only technical assistance and did not see any conflict of interest. In addition, the journalist claimed that his contract with Radio La Primerísima allowed such work, and that he had performed media consulting work in the past for private and public institutions without problems.

Grigsby, however, told Pastrán that since Solórzano had just been chosen to run the electoral campaign in Managua for the ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) candidate Enrique Bolaños, Pastrán’s work with him would damage the radio station’s relationship with the FSLN.

Grigsby added that both Solórzano and Bolaños were political enemies of the FSLN and therefore of Radio La Primerísima. Although Pastrán offered to take an unpaid leave of absence and resign as press director, while keeping his show, on August 25 he was summoned to a meeting and told that his show would be canceled effective immediately.

“Púlsar Noticias,” a highly rated daily show, first went on the air on Radio La Primerísima in June 1999. Since mid-September, the show has been broadcast by the Managua-based station Radio Tiempo.